Intentions Versus Agendas in Bodywork

No matter the type of therapy you perform, I am sure that setting an intention is something that you do often. By definition, intend means “to plan or want something, to have something in your mind as a purpose or goal.” As an occupational therapist I am always looking at my long term goals and setting up the session as a way to work towards the desired outcomes. I have known yoga teachers to set an intention at the beginning of class, or massage therapists who intend relaxation or peace with each client.

In contrast, as therapists and body workers, we are told to never hold agendas. Agenda by definition means “a list or outline of things to be done, an underlying ideological plan.” Lately, I have been wondering what is the difference, in a treatment setting, between intention and agenda? Both, by definition, are a plan, things to be done to get to a certain outcome. I set intentions for all of my clients before the session and I usually have a goal in mind of what I would like to work on with them. So why, in bodywork, is one (agenda) considered not good, while the other (intention) is desired?

My clients are my best teachers. This past month I had a client that I see every few months, and we often work on physical misalignments in her hips, lower back, and legs. Before the session started I set the intention her body would get what it needed from todays session, that if appropriate, it would align, and she would find deep peace and relaxation. As we started the session, we quickly changed from working on her hips and lower body to her head.

I trusted her body and knew that healing and relaxation can take place in many forms. In craniosacral therapy we know that sometimes restrictions in the hips are actually coming from possible misalignments in the head. I thought back to my intention that her body would get what it needed from our session today. I fought back my strong urge to work on her hips. Working on her hips directly would have been my agenda, because that is where her pain resides.  

After our session she stated she had never felt better in her low back and legs. She was amazed that by working on her head she could have such relief in a different part of her body. I was pleased I was able to set my agenda aside and listen to what her body needed. By setting my agenda aside we actually accomplished my desired outcome of decreased pain in the hips.     

I think the key word associated with agenda and intention that we need to get away from is plan. Not that plans are bad, we need to plan or we would get nowhere! But with bodywork and healing the therapist cannot have a defined, set in stone plan of how to get to the end goal. We can have a desired outcome to guide us, but ultimately, it is up the client’s body the best way to heal and the best way to achieve that outcome. It is our job to listen and provide the body with what it needs to get there. That might look really different than we think.

I also think attachment plays a big role with both intention and agenda. If we are attached to an outcome and the way we think we need to get there, we are not willing to listen to the client’s body; we are forcing our agenda onto them. I believe if we can get our brains out of the way, and listen to what the client’s body needs, healing can take place quickly and efficiently. Getting our brains out of the way can be difficult, but in doing so, we provide a strong therapeutic presence, and a place for the client’s body to tell you what it needs. Intentions can be set and agendas are accomplished indirectly.

Tune in next month about setting a therapeutic presence and getting your brains and attachments out of the way!     

Setting Therapeutic Presence

The Amazing Vagus Nerve

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